Being in a program like this one can be a strain on all kinds of relationships. Your parents don’t really understand what you’re doing, or why you don’t know yet if you will have to work over Christmas. Things between the mudphud and his or her spouse/partner is even worse: The mudphud partner is exhausted, stressed, emotional, and has almost no spare time and no control over his or her life. The partner is lonely, bored, frustrated, and tired of hearing the mudphud constantly bitch about stuff. I know all about this from both sides, since my husband is also an MD/PhD student. I haven’t decided if being married to another crazy person like me makes things easier or harder. I’m pretty sure it’s both.
On one hand, we have all of the negatives associated with this mess times two. Both of us have very demanding schedules with long hours that we can’t control. Both of us have to study even when we get to be at home. We have both been through a major episode of clinical depression, aka “graduate school”.
On the other hand, we at least understand why the other has to do these things. I think all mudphud or medical spouses kind of understand. But the more I do this the more I believe it’s kind of like being at war with someone. It’s impossible to really, truly understand what it’s like unless you’ve been through it yourself.
There is another interesting wrinkle to this for me, which is having a front row seat to the madness to come. My husband is a year ahead of me in the program, so I get to watch the events—and the effects of those events—before they happen to me. I knew that finishing grad school, writing my dissertation, etc, would be hard. After watching my hubby go through it, I redefined my expectations of “hard”. Knowing exactly what I’m in for this coming year is good and bad. There is less mystery and I have the advantage of his survival tips and gems. On the other hand, I know things that other students at my level seem to not understand yet. For example, at our last class meeting, one of my classmates asked how many weekends we were going to have to work on surgery; another asked who they had to speak to to make sure they could leave by a certain time every day. I was almost the only one to laugh.
Anyway, the absolute hardest part of all of this is not getting to see very much of your spouse. My husband is my best friend and I love spending time with him—that is, after all, why I married the guy. It’s been hard all year, but now that I have lots of time and he has basically none, it is much worse. In a few weeks I won’t have much of a chance to think about it, but sadly he will have quite a bit of free time next year, and it will be my turn to be totally slammed. We will basically alternate this way—one of us AWOL, the other with a reasonable amount of time—for the next three or four years. Then, God willing, we’ll have more time and say-so about our schedules. At least we will have time off together, for the first time in a few years, for the holidays this year. And in a week we get a whole week off together! It’s the small victories you savor in this business.
I’ve been writing this while waiting for him to finish a question set. He’s studying hard for his last shelf exam (very difficult exams at the end of each rotation), but I have gotten to see a little of him this weekend, which has been great. He’s ready to take a break now, so off I go. I’ve learned that these past few years; be flexible, and you might just remember what your spouse looks like.